This week’s Hezbollah protest in Beirut led to yet another disaster for the city and country. Seven Beirutis died from sectarian fire. Nine individuals have been detained by police, including one Syrian.
The national inquiry into last years massive explosion which killed 200, wounded thousands and destroyed half the city, has entered a decisive phase. In particular, two former ministers responsible for the port have refused to give testimony to the judge chairing the investigation. They are allied with Amal, a close ally of Hezbollah. The latter too fears it may be implicated in the disaster.
Just as it did in the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which it was found guilty of orchestrating on Syria’s behalf, Hezbollah is squirming in the hot seat. The closer justice comes to determining its culpability, the more bellicose and threatening it becomes. Nor is it above bringing the entire country to its knees to protect its prerogatives.
The joint protest by Hezbollah and Amal ostensibly focused on the Palace of Justice, where Judge Tarek Bitar hears evidence in the case. But then the protesters headed toward the Christian neighborhood of their Maronite enemies. That’s when gunfire broke out. Though no one knows whether the (Christian) Lebanese Forces or (Shiite) Hezbollah started the gunfire, hundreds of the latter’s fighters openly brandished weapons on the street. Eyewitnesses confirm that the shooting started there, after which snipers began firing from nearby buildings.
At this point, it’s less important to assess blame for the deaths of the seven dead Beirutis, though my inclination is clear above. Rather, I want to remind readers of my own reporting of last year. Based on a source close to an Israeli minister, I reported that Israel had targeted a Hezbollah weapons cache stored at the port. The missiles and other weapons which it destroyed there, in turn ignited the far larger inferno which destroyed the city.
For the skeptical, Al Jarida’s Jerusalem correspondent published this report on the disaster a few weeks ago which confirms virtually every aspect of my reporting:
Official regional intelligence sources [sometimes Israeli intelligence sources are thinly veiled by this term] assumed that Israel was the one who launched on that disastrous day a raid on the port, targeting a shipment of spare parts and remote guidance devices, which had arrived by sea from Iran on a Uruguayan-flagged cargo ship days before the explosion.
The sources said that Israel considered the arrival of these equipment items, which are used to direct precision missiles, a red-line and a violation of the Israeli deterrence equation. Therefore, it decided to destroy the shipment in the warehouse, which also contained precision missile warheads.
They recalled that, one year before the port explosion, Israel bombed a rare industrial mixing machine used to make solid fuel in the southern suburb of Beirut, in a complex operation that took place using drones.
They said that Tel Aviv was surprised by the huge explosion caused by the tons of ammonium nitrate stored in warehouse 12.
This is the evidence that Hezbollah seeks to suppress. This is why it demands the firing of the judge hearing the case. The closer he gets to the militant group as a party to the disaster, the angrier it becomes. This protest may be only the beginning. If Judge Bitar continues his relentless probe, Hezbollah will no doubt ratchet up pressure until the judge is fired, resigned, or murdered.
Before anyone blanches at that possibility, I remind you that the chief Lebanese police officer investigating Hariri’s murder was himself killed in a car bomb attack likely orchestrated by Hezbollah or its allies.
I understand there are true believers on the left who see Hezbollah as heroes in the resistance to Israeli aggression. If that was all Hezbollah did, I would have little problem with it. Israel has pummeled Lebanon for decades–invading, massacring, assassinating–and it is critical that there be a force opposing its violations of Lebanese sovereignty. But its behavior within Lebanon is often problematic. Rooted in the pernicious nature of the country’s sectarian politics, each side plays a dangerous game of chicken to determine how close to the edge it can get within hurtling into the abyss. And Hezbollah plays this game to the hilt. That explains the high-stakes theatrics of this week’s disastrous protest.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.